COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – Hilton Smith spent his career in the long shadow of the legendary Satchel Paige.
But when the details of Smith’s brilliant record were brought to light, the result was a place in Cooperstown.
On May 16, 1937 – 75 years ago this week – Smith, star hurler with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League, pitched a no-hitter against the Chicago American Giants. It was Smith’s first full season in the Negro Leagues, and he finished the campaign with an 11-3 record and 2.65 earned-run average in 12 official NAL games.
“There was nobody better in this whole world (than Smith),” said Negro Leagues legend Buck O’Neil.
Born Feb. 27, 1907 in Giddings, Texas, Smith pitched for the Monroe Monarchs of the Negro Southern League from 1932-35 before joining Kansas City in 1937. The 6-foot-2, 180-pound Smith used a variety of pitches – including a devastating fastball and knee-buckling curve – to neutralize batters.
During his no-hitter, only two balls were hit out of the infield.
Smith often pitched in relief of Paige, who would start numerous games per week but only pitch two or three innings per appearance – allowing his arm recovery time so he could start many more games than the average pitcher. Smith would relieve Paige, continuing the dominance that Paige started.
Smith was named to six consecutive East-West All-Star Games between 1937 and 1942, and led the Monarchs to seven pennants.
Following his retirement after the 1948 season, Smith served as a coach and scout – eventually scouting for the Chicago Cubs until his death on Nov. 18, 1983.
Smith was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2001.
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum